On the Horizon: 'The Benedictine Reform'

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3/31/2008

During his six-day visit to the United States in April, Pope Benedict XVI will bring with him his vision for the Church’s ongoing renewal in the 21st century. This vision is both spiritual and doctrinal, and is directed at ending the confusion that has lingered in some areas of the Church’s life since the end of the Second Vatican Council. The pope also wants to bolster the Church as it faces the challenges of a secularized modern world and a resurgent Islam. His efforts might be called “The Benedictine Reform.”

To accomplish these goals, the pope will likely emphasize three things during his April 15-20 visit: the Eucharist, especially in two large outdoor Masses; catechesis, or faith formation, in several smaller, private meetings; and the need for every Catholic to be an evangelizing witness to the values of the Gospel.

The trip will not be political, though 2008 is an election year in the United States. Benedict will visit the White House to meet with President George W. Bush, and pay his respects at Ground Zero in New York.

“The pope is nonpartisan,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian weekly, in its Jan. 6 issue.

Cardinal Bertone said the pope’s address to the United Nations “will confirm the irreplaceable nature of the United Nations” and will also touch on world trouble spots, like the Middle East and Africa.

A Christ-Centered Visit Back to Top

Benedict has now been pope for almost three years. Wherever he goes, whatever issues he addresses, his message contains these related elements: an invitation to encounter Jesus Christ, a call to believers to learn more about him, and a challenge to bear witness to the Lord in their lives.

His U.S. visit, therefore, will be Christ-centered. The pope will emphasize the centrality of Jesus Christ as the source, life and expectation of the Church. He will teach that Jesus Christ is not a principle or an ideology, but a person whom one can meet in the Eucharist, in Scripture, in prayer and in worship. And he will teach that the Church exists to bear witness to this living Lord, and not for any other social or political reason, no matter how noble or lofty.

The pope will emphasize catechesis. Benedict, a professor before he became a bishop, will stress to the American bishops and to Catholic educators the need to teach faith in Jesus; that is, the need for clear catechesis, for good teaching, in families, parishes, dioceses, schools and universities.

Finally, the pope will underline the need for witness. He will stress the need for Christian witness in a world tempted by violent, unjust solutions to difficult problems. This will surely be a theme throughout the trip, and especially in his address to the United Nations in New York City.

After the Visit Back to Top

During the remainder of 2008 and into 2009, Pope Benedict and his closest collaborators will continue to proclaim these messages at several ecclesial events. First on the horizon is the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec, June 15-22. The pope will not attend the congress, but will send a papal legate to represent him. Benedict, though, is scheduled to join congress attendees for the closing Mass via a televised link from Rome.

“Thanks to the papal legate’s presence, this closing Mass will still have its symbolic import of being the visible communion of the universal Church gathered in Quebec City around Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist,” said Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec. “It is an opportunity for Catholics from around the world to celebrate their faith in the Eucharist and to bear witness to the Gospel by sharing moments of prayer, reflection and fraternity.”

Later this summer, the pope will attend the final day of World Youth Day, the largest youth event in the world, to be held in Sydney, Australia, July 15-20.

By attending World Youth Day, organizers say, “young people from throughout the world will make a pilgrimage of faith, meet, and have an opportunity to rediscover their baptismal calling and the centrality of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation, and so discover a new apostolic zeal to witness more fully the Gospel in the modern world.” Also, sometime during the year, Benedict is expected to visit Lourdes, France, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there.

In early 2009, Pope Benedict is scheduled to attend the 6th World Meeting of Families in Mexico City. At the 2006 World Family Day in Valencia, Spain, the pope said, “Through the intercession of Mary, open your homes and your hearts to Christ, so that he will be your strength and your joy, and help you to live in harmony and to proclaim before the world the invincible power of true love.”

His address highlighted the distance between the subjectivism of the modern world and the constancy of Church teaching. “True human freedom derives from our having been created in God’s image and likeness,” the pope said. “Christian education is consequently an education in freedom and for freedom. The Christian family — father, mother and children — is called, then, to do all these things not as a task imposed from without, but rather as a gift of the sacramental grace of marriage poured out upon the spouses. If they remain open to the Spirit and implore his help, he will not fail to bestow on them the love of God the Father made manifest and incarnate in Christ. … This is the message of hope that…I wish to share with all the families of the world.”

The Year of St. Paul and Beyond Back to Top

On June 28, Benedict will inaugurate the Year of St. Paul. He wants modern Christians to draw inspiration from the Apostle to the Gentiles. On Jan. 25, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, he noted that Paul had urged Christians to pray constantly. Paul’s appeal to the Christians of Thessalonica, the pope said, gives “strength and consistency” to the exhortations contained in this epistle to “admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks” (1 Thes 5:12-18).

This is Pope Benedict’s message to the Church and to the world: Seek what is good for each and for all (see 1 Cor 10:24). This is the goal of his visit to the United States, and of all his efforts as he attempts to guide the Church through these present stormy waters.

Robert Moynihan is editor of Inside the Vatican magazine (www.insidethevatican.com) and author of Let God’s Light Shine Forth: The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI (Image Books/Doubleday, 2005).

(CNS Photo/Dario Pignatelli, Reuters)